CANOEING & SEA KAYAKING:
Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory offers some spectacular flat canoeing. You’ll find delightful canoeing on the bird-rich Ord River in the Top End. Katherine Gorge and the Ord are full of generally harmless freshwater crocodiles, but never canoe in saltwater-crocodile territory. White-water canoeing can be found in Barrington Tops National Park north of Sydney.
A growing number of operators all around the coastline rent kayaks and lead guided expeditions. Popular spots are the Whitsunday Islands in north Queensland, the cold southern seas around Tasmania, and Byron Bay, where you can take a 3-hour “dolphin kayaking” trip to see wild dolphins (and whales June–Oct) and “kayak- surf” the waves.
Australia doesn’t have a lot of caves, but the ones it has are spectacular. The best spots are the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, and the Margaret River region in southwest Western Australia. For tourists who want to see caves and stay clean and safe (as opposed to spelunkers), the best caves are the spectacular Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, a honeycomb of caverns bursting with intricate stalactites and stalagmites; and the 350 limestone caves in Margaret River, of which 5 are open to the public. Two are “adventure caves,” which any novice caver (as opposed to an experienced spelunker) can explore on a 2- or 3-hour tour. You can also go caving at the Capricorn Caves in Central Queensland.
Reef, game, deep sea, beach, estuary, and river fishing— Australia’s massive coastline lets you do it all. Drop a line for coral trout on the Great Barrier Reef; go for the world record black marlin off Cairns; hook a fighting “barra” (barramundi) in the Northern Territory or the Kimberley; or cast for trout in Tasmania’s highland lakes. Charter boats will take you out for the day from most coastal towns.
Australians are almost as passionate about golf as they are about football and cricket—after all, Greg Norman started life as an Aussie! Queensland has the lion’s share of the most stunning resort courses, such as the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas, Laguna Quays Resort near the Whit- sundays, and the Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove Resort on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast has more than 40 courses. Most courses rent clubs for around A$30 (US$20). Greens fees start at around A$20 (US$13) for 18 holes but average A$65 (US$42) or more on a championship course.
Horse-riding operators are everywhere in Australia. A particularly pleasant vacation is a multi day riding and camping trek in The Man from Snowy River country in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales.
The 74 islands of the Whit sundays in Queensland are an out-of-this-world backdrop for sailing. And you don’t have to be an expert sailor—the Whitsunday region is Australia’s “bareboating” capital. Bareboating means you can charter an unskippered yacht and sail yourself. Even those without a scrap of experience can do it, although it’s best to have someone on board who knows aft from fore. Perth and Sydney are mad about sailing; head to the nearest yacht club and see what on-board places are going, especially during summer twilight races. The clubs are often short of sailors and most will welcome out-of-towners.
You’ll have no trouble finding a good surf beach along the Australian coast. Perth and Sydney are blessed with loads right in the city. Other popular spots include the Gold and Sunshine coasts in Queensland, the legendary Southern Ocean swells along Victoria’s southern coast, and magnificent sets off Margaret River in Western Australia. Don’t take your board much north of the Sunshine Coast—the Great Barrier Reef puts a stop to the swell from there all the way to the northern tip of Queensland. Loads of companies rent surf gear. Beginner’s lessons are offered at many surf beaches. Remember, surf only at patrolled beaches and never surf alone.
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Bispo is a travel adviser in Australia who likes to write about everywhere he has been in and around Australia.